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Thirty Years Later, A Historic Season Remembered

Dec 1, 2021
Wide receiver Brian Treggs helped the Bears polish off a memorable 1991 season with a victory in the Citrus Bowl.

A group of men are going to get together Saturday night. They will do so on a field that helped shape the reason why they are getting together in the first place.

Members of Cal's unforgettable 1991 football team will be recognized during the Bears' season-finale against USC to honor the 30th anniversary of one of the program's greatest seasons ever. Cal went 10-2 that year, crushed Clemson in the Citrus Bowl and finished with a No. 8 national ranking.

"If we wouldn't have had that season, we wouldn't be getting together again," said former Cal wide receiver Brian Treggs, who returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown in the Bears' Citrus Bowl victory. "There would be nothing to get together for. You can never take that team and that season away from us. It's kind of like our Cal degree – that's something we have forever."

In the 30 years since, the 1991 football season has become one of most popular talking points among Cal fans. The Bears finished with the program's fifth-highest final Associated Press ranking ever and are one of only six Cal football teams ever to finish a season ranked in the top-10. The Citrus Bowl remains the only New Year's Day bowl game the Bears have participated in since 1959.

"I think the Citrus Bowl is kind of like The Play for Cal fans," said former Cal quarterback and current Cal radio analyst Mike Pawlawski, who was named the Pac-12's Co-Offensive Player of the Year in 1991. "Obviously, it's a great memory for Cal fans and a great memory for our team."

The Bears felt as though something special was brewing when they convened for training camp in 1991. They had most of their key components returning from a 1990 team that went 7-4-1 and defeated Wyoming in the Copper Bowl. And when they exploded for an 86-24 victory over Pacific in their season-opener, the message was sent that big things may lie ahead.

"We knew it, but that validated that we could score some points," Pawlawski said.

After routing Purdue at home and then going on the road to notch close victories over Arizona and 24th-ranked UCLA, Cal returned to Berkeley and hammered Oregon, 45-7. That set up one of the premier games in all of college football that season – No. 7 Cal vs. No. 3 Washington at California Memorial Stadium.

In a back-and-forth game that attracted a sellout crowd of 74,500 fans as well as a throng of national media, the Huskies held on for a 24-17 victory after a pass from Pawlawski to Treggs from the Washington 23 fell incomplete on the game's final play.

"We knew Washington was a really good football team," Pawlawski said. "And we knew there were plays, and if we made them, we would have won that game. We just didn't make the plays. We felt like we should have won the game. But we didn't, and Washington earned it."

Cal regrouped to win its next four games, including a 52-30 blowout of USC. The Bears finished the regular season with a disappointing loss to No. 21 Stanford in the Big Game, but a 9-2 overall record still earned them a trip to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl against Clemson.

It appeared to be an evenly matched showdown. Clemson entered the game ranked No. 13 in the nation while the Bears were 14th. And although the Bears entered the game as a slight favorite, that's not the way they saw it based on what they were seeing and hearing.

"The people on the East Coast had absolutely no idea about California football," Pawlawski said. "When we got out there, all the Clemson fans were like, 'It's so nice that you get to come down here.' They had no idea how good our team was."

The Tigers featured one of the best defenses in the country, led by eventual NFL first-round draft pick Chester McGlockton and second-round selection Levon Kirkland. But the Bears jumped out to a 17-0 lead and cruised to a 37-13 victory. Cal running back Russell White, who was a consensus All-American that year, rushed for 103 yards – Clemson entered the game leading the nation in run defense, allowing just 53.4 yards per game on the ground. Pawlawski was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

"There was definitely an East Coast bias, but we didn't care," said former Cal offensive lineman Troy Auzenne, who was named an All-American in 1991 and was drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears. "We weren't playing someone's brand. We were playing their team."

Along with Auzenne, defensive back David Wilson, Pawlawski and center Steve Gordon were selected in the 1992 NFL Draft. Members of that team have remained connected over the years and plan on getting together on their own before Saturday's game.

"We were extremely confident in what we were capable of accomplishing," Treggs said. "We just had a sense of confidence every time we stepped on the football field, and it made that team very special. That was one of the greatest teams in Cal football history, based on what we were able to accomplish."